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Published in the 16-31 Dec 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Parliament passes bill to repeal POTA

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha passed the Bill repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill on December 9 by a voice vote after a long debate and walkout by the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. 

The Samjwadi Party abstained from voting, the AIADMK opposed the new amendments in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill. 

The Lok Sabha had already approved the both Bills on December 6. 

Opposition disapproves new anti-terror law

New Delhi: Opposition parties on Dec 3 disapproved the new legislation to replace a controversial anti-terror law that was enacted by the previous government, saying it was adequate for the purpose.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance opposition moved a statutory resolution disapproving the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) repeal ordinance, promulgated earlier this year. While the opposition argued that POTA was the appropriate law to deal with the terrorist activities in the country, the Congress-led ruling coalition pointed out that the law has largely been misused to "frame" the minorities. Citing the developments in Gujarat after the 2002 sectarian violence, Madhusudan Mistry of the Congress said that not a single BJP leader, who was charged of leading mob against Muslims, has been booked under POTA. "No minority group feels safe because of arbitrary implementation of the act," charged Mistry. 

The move to repeal POTA was opposed by the BJP and its allies and they walked out from the house on December 6 when the Bill was being taken up for consideration.

While Left parties, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) wanted the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill to be referred to the Standing Committee, the SP and the BSP walked out in protest, while the Left parties abstained from voting on the passage of Bill. These parties are of the view that the Bill contained certain provisions that were similar in nature to POTA and were likely to be misused. They had urged the government to refer the Bill to the House committee, so that it could be studied in detail and suitable amendments suggested.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 has the powers to punish a person who commits a terrorist act with death penalty or life imprisonment, and punishment for five years who raises funds for terrorist activities which may even extend to life imprisonment. Similar punishment is stipulated for those found conspiring, advocating, inciting or facilitating the commission of a terrorist act.

The BJP and its allies said that repealing POTA would encourage terrorists activities. They also accused the government of repealing the law with an eye on the vote of minorities and on the advice of some Pakistani MPs. The move has cleared the decks for the review of all POTA cases pending in courts or at various stages of investigation within one-year period. 

The Bill said that the government was concerned with the manner the Act was misused by some state governments in the past two years and that it has failed in its intended purpose. 

The Bill replaces the ordinance promulgated on September 21. The ordinance empowered the Central Review Committee to review all pending cases at various stages of investigation and complete the review within one year from the date of repeal. If in the opinion of the committee no prima facie case is made out either in respect of cases pending in courts, or under investigation, such cases should be deemed to have been withdrawn and the investigation closed. The review committee has powers to get any public record from any court or office. The Central government may constitute more review committees if it considers necessary for completing he review within the stipulated period of one year.

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